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100 years of aviation research

Modern aviation research began at the end of the 19th century with a man called Otto Lilienthal. Between 1880 and 1896 he carried out his own attempts at flight, and in 1889 he published a work entitled Der Vogelflug als Grundlage der Fliegekunst (‘The Flight of Birds as a Basis for Aviation’). 


1900 - 1914

The early pioneers
1897 -
The first intensive research and development takes place in steerable airships. Graf Zeppelin is an extremely active entrepreneur in this field, positioning himself at the forefront of airship engineering.
1903 First powered flight by the Wright Brothers. At around the same time, the German Karl Jatho from Hanover also performs short flights using powered apparatus, but this is not fully adequate for controlled flight. Gustav Weisskopf from Leutershausen in Franconia, who emigrated to the USA and became Gustave Whitehead, is reported to have performed several flights with a motorised apparatus in 1901. Unfortunately, there is no photographic or film evidence, so the honour for achieving the first documented powered flight belongs to the Wright Brothers. 
1904 Prof. Ludwig Prandtl formulates his pioneering theory of fluid flow with very little friction (‘boundary layer theory’)
1907 Founding of a model testing facility by the Motorluftschiff-Studiengesellschaft (Motorised Airship Research Company)
First closed (‘Göttingen-type’) wind tunnel
  • Prandtl receives Germany’s first teaching position for aeronautics at the University of Göttingen
  • Hans Grade wins the Lanz-Preis der Lüfte (Lanz Aviation Prize) with an aircraft and engine he built himself
  • International Flight Week in Berlin, opening of the Johannisthal airfield
  • First International Airship Exhibition in Frankfurt
1911 Theodore von Karman (a student of Prandtl) publishes his theory of vortex streets
  • The Kaiserpreis (Emperor’s Prize) for the best German aircraft engine is announced
    Founding of the German Aviation Testing Establishment (DVL) at Adlershof in Berlin
  • German Reichspost offers the first airmail service by airship and aeroplane
  • Founding of the Scientific Society for Aeronautics (WGL)
  • Founding of the German Aviation Testing Establishment (DVL)


1914 - 1918

First World War
- 1915

Construction of the first metal aircraft

  • Increased war demand results in the decision to built a model testing establishment for aerodynamics (MVA)
  • At the DVL in Adlershof, a towing track is built with a tower car for measuring aerodynamic force on aircraft. Construction of engine test rigs and an airscrew test rig


First ‘Göttingen-type’ wind tunnel goes into operation at MVA

  • The Junkers J 10, a two-seater all-metal reconnaissance aircraft and a predecessor of the later Junkers F 13, the world’s first transport aircraft
  • Prof. Ludwig Prandtl delivers his paper on aerofoil theory at the conference of the WGL, where he describes the relationship between aerofoil lift and resistance, and the formation of vortices behind an aerofoil, for the first time. In the view of leading aerodynamicists, this is one of Prandtl’s greatest scientific achievements.


1919 - 1933

Reconstruction of Germany and a new direction
  • Maiden flight of the Junkers F 13, the world’s first passenger aircraft
  • The Treaty of Versailles has drastic consequences for the aviation industry and aviation research


The MVA becomes the Aerodynamic Testing Establishment (AVA)


onwards During a period of inflation, aerodynamic research and optimisation concentrates on non-aviation applications: in automobiles (the ‘Tropfenwagen’ (teardrop shape) and Daimler-Benz racing cars) and locomotives (Betz deflectors)

  • Founding of the Rhön-Rossitten Gesellschaft (RRG). The conditions of the Treaty of Versailles oblige the company to focus on research into gliding
  • Aviation research begins once again in Göttingen (AVA)
    Work on boundary layer suction

  • Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Flow Research in Göttingen
  • onwards The three-engined all-metal transport aircraft Junkers G 24, predecessor of the legendary Ju 52 (maiden flight in 1931)


German Aviation Research Council (a scientific advisory committee)

1932 Maiden flight of the Heinkel He 70, the first ‘fast aircraft’ with aerodynamically optimised configuration and retractable landing gear


Advancement and rearmament during the Third Reich

  • Adolf Bäumker begins to reform German aviation research
  • The Reichskommissariat für Luftfahrt (Imperial Aviation Commissariat) becomes the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Imperial Ministry of Aviation, RLM). The Minister is Hermann Göring and the State Secretary is Erhard Milch (former director of Lufthansa) 
  • onwards Major extensions are added to the DVL at Adlershof, Berlin: engine test rigs, a vertical wind tunnel for spinning tests, the ‘Large Wind Tunnel’ and a high-speed wind tunnel  
  • Voluntary lifting of the sanctions on aviation laid down by the Treaty of Versailles
  • At the Volta Congress in Rome, Prof. Adolf Busemann (a student of Prandtl at the Technische Hochschule Dresden and later active at the German Aviation Research Establishment (DFL)) delivers a paper on ‘Aerodynamic Lift at Supersonic Speeds’, outlining for the first time in public the effects and advantages of the swept wing in high-speed flight. This address was a turning point in aviation research and would influence high-speed aerodynamics right up to the present day. 
  • Founding of the German Aviation Research Establishment (DFL) in Braunschweig 
  • Maiden flight of the Focke-Wulf FW 61, the world’s first fully controllable helicopter

Founding of the Aircraft Communication Research Institute at Oberpfaffenhofen: high-frequency and radio measurement technology and development of radar

  • The DFL is renamed the Hermann Göring Aviation Research Establishment (LFA)
  • The Focke-Wulf FW 200 ‘Condor’ makes a non-stop flight from Berlin to New York

A milestone in the history of aviation: maiden flight of the Heinkel He 178, the first time a turbojet engine has been used with a radial compressor and ring combustion chamber


1939 - 1945

Second World War


onwards Aviation research is mainly geared towards military applications

  • Five-year plan for aviation research is drawn up by the Imperial Ministry of Aviation:

    - Aerodynamics
    - High-performance piston engines
    - Jet and rocket engines
    - Weapons technology
    - Radio navigation and radar
    - Materials
  • Founding of the Munich Aviation Research Establishment (LFM)
  • onwards Building on the intensive research activities of the last few years, a great deal of project-based research is carried out in aeroelastic wind tunnel tests and analyses of flutter
  • onwards Volume production of the Heinkel ejector seat for the He 219, He 162 and Do 335
  • Construction of a high-speed wind tunnel in the Ötztal Alps (after 1946, this was relocated to Modane and later put into operation by ONERA)
  • First two-circuit jet engine with counter-rotating compressor, following proposals from the AVA (Daimler Benz 007)
  • Maiden flight of the Flettner helicopter Fl 282 ‘Kolibri’ with intermeshing rotor
  • Maiden flight of the two-jet Me 262, the first fully operational military jet aircraft, and the Me 163, the first flying-wing aircraft with a rocket engine
  • Eugen Sänger proposes an interceptor aircraft with ramjet engine


Start of volume production of the Jumo 003 and 004 jet engines with ring combustion chamber


Numerous swept wing designs for high-speed aircraft, the most important examples being the Ju 287 with forward-swept wings and the Me 1101 with ground-adjustable wing sweep (the basis for the later American experimental aircraft Bell X5)


and after The Göttingen and Braunschweig monographs are written
Halt to all aviation research
Exodus of German aviation scientists and engineers from the country (for example through Project ‘Paperclip’)
Over the following years, wide and intensive use is made of German aviation expertise in

  • the USA
  • the Soviet Union
  • Great Britain
  • France
  • Egypt
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • India
  • Spain
  • Sweden

One example is the aerofoil of the planned Boeing B 47 US bomber, initially designed with a conventional trapezoid shape but redesigned using Busemann’s swept-wing theories (LFA)


A new beginning and reconstruction

  • Research work resumes in ‘working groups’
  • onwards – Aerodynamics and High-Frequency in Aachen


  • onwards -  Aviation Medicine and Materials Research in Bonn and Aachen
  • Founding of AGARD, NATO’s aviation research organisation, an initiative propounded by Theodore von Karman
  • The Scientific Society for Aviation (WGL) is reborn
  • onwards Development of aviation industry starts in the GDR


  • onwards - Thermodynamics and Aviation Fuels and Lubricants in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Garmisch-Grainau, Munich
  • onwards Re-establishment of the DFL in Braunschweig, largely with the guidance of Prof. Dr. Hermann Blenk, who was one of the original founding members back in 1935.
  • onwards Re-establishment of the German Glider Research Establishment (DFS)
  • Beginning of the STOL/VTOL programme (notably at Dornier)


  • onwards - Turbo-Engines and Machine Dynamics in Aachen
  • onwards Working groups are reformed into Institutes (particularly the Aachen working group)
  • onwards Re-establishment of the Aircraft Communication Research Institute at Oberpfaffenhofen (FFO)
  • Jet Propulsion Research Institute (FPS) under E. Sänger
  • Aviation researchers return to GDR from the USSR
  • FFO merges with DVL
  • onwards Development of testing facilities at Aachen and Mülheim an der Ruhr, later relocated to Porz-Wahn
  • onwards Construction under licence of the jet trainer ‘Fouga Magister’, followed by licensed construction of Fiat G 91 and Lockheed F 104 ‘Starfighter’ replicas
  • The first German post-war aircraft, the Dornier Do 27, goes into service
  • Start of the Federal Ministry of Defence’s VTOL programme
  • It is decided that DVL should move to new headquarters in Porz-Wahn
  • Maiden flight of the four-jet GDR transport aircraft ‘152’ (designed by Prof. Dr. Brunolf Baade)
  • Construction work begins at Porz-Wahn and the foundation stone is laid
    Institute for Jet Propulsion (later the Institute of Propulsion Technology)
  • The dawn of long-haul civilian passenger transport with the Boeing 707, Douglas DC 8, Convair 880, Tupolev 104 and Comet IV jet airliners. Testing had been carried out on the de Havilland Comet since 1952, but the fleet was temporarily grounded after a series of accidents.


Founding of the German Society for Aviation Sciences (DGF), whose president is Prof. Dr. Hermann Blenk

First research flights with a Do 27 in Braunschweig


Maiden flight of the VTOL aircraft VJ 101


onwards Helicopter research, e.g. investigation of steel and plastic fibre rotor blades, Braunschweig


Merging of AVA, DVL and DFL to form the German Aerospace Research and Testing Establishment (DFVLR)


Consolidation and concentration at the DFVLR: 1969 onwards

  • Research into parachutes for recovery systems, Braunschweig
  • First wind tunnel measurements performed on models of the future European Airbus
  • Theoretical and experimental parachute tests for recovery systems

First analytical work on electronic aircraft control systems (Institute of Flight Guidance)

  • Research into turbine exhaust gases
  • Research aircraft Hansa HFB 320 progresses to airborne simulator stage (Institute of Flight Mechanics)
  • Development and testing of a night flying display for helicopters (Institute of Flight Guidance)

New two-jet research aircraft, Canberra, for high-altitude research, atmospheric research, antennae and remote sensing (Oberpfaffenhofen)


Construction of a flight simulator in Braunschweig (based on the Hunting Percival Pembroke), Institute of Flight Guidance

  • New experimental rig for helicopter rotors at Braunschweig, Institute of Flight Mechanics
  • Measurements on the Open Loop Gust Alleviation system (OLGA) on a wind tunnel model of the industrial experiment-carrying aircraft, the Do 28 TNT

Inflight simulation of the planned Airbus A 310 using the HFB 320: part of the civilian component programme


First measurement flights with the new research helicopter Bo 105 S-123 (Institute of Flight Mechanics)


Commissioning of a test rig for the planned European Transonic Wind Tunnel at Cologne-Porz

  • The ATTAS programme is started as a successor to the HFB 320
  • Commissioning of the high-pressure wind tunnel in Göttingen
  • Commissioning of the German-Dutch Wind Tunnel in Noordoostpolder

Ejector seat for helicopter pilots with jettisoning of rotor (Institute of Flight Mechanics)

  • First analytical work to wake turbulence at Frankfurt Airport (Institute for Flight Mechanics)
  • Construction of the ATMOS air traffic simulator in Braunschweig (Institute for Flight Guidance)
  • Commissioning of the new research helicopter ATTHes in Braunschweig
  • New research aircraft Do 228 for remote sensing, Oberpfaffenhofen
  • Commissioning of the ROTOS rotor experimental rig at DNW (Institute of Flight Mechanics)
  • The Cryogenic Wind Tunnel goes into operation in Cologne Presence of pilot function with regard to the planned European Transonic Wind Tunnel (ETW)
  • First inflight simulation with the new research aircraft ATTAS (VFW 614) (Institute of Flight Mechanics)
  • New large test rig for compressor research, Institute of Propulsion Technology
  • Research into laminar airflows on the swept wing with ATTAS (Institute of Design Aerodynamics)

CRISP wind tunnel tests in Göttingen (Counter-Rotating Integrated Shrouded Propfan)


The DFVLR (German Aerospace Research and Testing Establishment) is renamed DLR (German Aerospace Centre)


A new name and stronger international cooperation (1989 – present day)


Development of a CFRP rudder, Institute of Structural Mechanics


COMPAS flight guidance system is tested in Frankfurt, Institute of Flight Guidance


ATTAS inflight simulation of planned space glider HERMES


Strato 2C high-altitude research aircraft: project abandoned as the result of a policy decision by the Federal Ministry of Research


Tower view simulation in Braunschweig, Institute of Flight Guidance


  • The world’s first fly-by-wire helicopter flight (of an ATTHes) (Institute of Flight Mechanics)
  • DLR and NLR sign agreement on joint use of wind tunnel facilities


  • First flight tests with MAGSI force-feedback sidestick. Collaboration between Institute of Flight Mechanics and Technische Universität Braunschweig
  • Inflight simulation of the planned Airbus A 3XX (now the A 380) with ATTAS (Institute of Flight Mechanics)
  • New wake turbulence research with Doppler-Lidar (Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Oberpfaffenhofen)

Research into de-icing system for laminar wings, Braunschweig (collaboration with DASA)

  • Introduction of a contact-free technique for measuring aerodynamic pressure (‘shining wings’), Göttingen
  • TARMAC (Taxi and Ramp Management and Control) system undergoes successful testing at Braunschweig Airport, Institute of Flight Guidance
  • Completion of the extensive joint project ‘Pollutants in Aviation’ Participation of DLR sites at Cologne-Porz, Göttingen and Oberpfaffenhofen
  • Airflow measurements on an original Airbus landing gear and aerofoil at DNW

Commissioning of a helicopter ground simulator for the planned new research helicopter FHS (EC 135)


Turbulence and acoustic measurements on helicopter rotors at DNW as part of HART II , Institute of Flight Systems (formerly the Institute of Flight Mechanics)

  • Series of inflight measurements with ATTAS for planned regional transporter Fairchild-Dornier 728
  • First fly-by-light test flights with new FHS research helicopter (Institute of Flight Systems)

Maiden flight of the unmanned ARTIS helicopter, a technology demonstrator for autonomous VTOL flight, Institute of Flight Mechanics

  • Quiet air traffic and the effects of night-time aircraft noise (Institute of Aerospace Medicine)
  • DLR commissions new control panel simulator for air traffic management (Institute of Flight Guidance)
  • First successful deployment of ATTAS as a UAV, Institute of Flight Systems
  • Acceptance of Do 728 prototypes for cabin researchInstitute of Aerodynamics and Flow Technology, Göttingen 
  • Stationary vibration tests with Airbus A 380 / DLR-ONERA (Institute of Aeroelasticity)
  • Noise caused by flow of air over slats numerically simulated for the first time using the new PIANO method(Institute of Aerodynamics and Flow Technology)

DLR takes delivery of new HALO research aircraft for atmospheric research, to go into operation in 2008 (Institute of Atmospheric Physics)

2007 DLR takes delivery of new Airbus A 320 ATRA (Advanced Technologies Research Aircraft) to succeed ATTAS, to go into operation in 2008

(Diese Formulierung muss noch bearbeitet werden - )* Die Daten sollen nur einen Überblick der letzten 100 Jahre bieten und können keinegswegs als vollständig betrachtet werden.

Created: 15/01/2007 14:40:00